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Jaden Smith’s debut album, SYRE, was released late last night. It’s daunting in size and scope: it clocks in at 70 minutes and folds in pieces of post-Frank Ocean pop, post-808s electro-R&B, and post-high school ennui. It was a labor of love, one that the enigmatic 19-year-old says took him three years to complete.
Though he’s famous for his cryptic, sometimes inscrutable tweets, conversations with Smith are clear and almost alarmingly comfortable. Complex spoke with him about the labor that went into SYRE, the two other famous musicians in his family, and his many plans for the betterment of humanity.
You’ve been in the public eye for most of your life, but it seems like SYRE is poised to get more attention than just about anything you’ve done before. Are you nervous?
Yeah man, it’s a completely different experience getting ready for it to come out. I am nervous. I am antsy about it. I know that once it goes out, it’s gonna be out forever—and that’s a good thing, because I really want people to be able to connect with it, and look back on it, and talk about it. I’m doing it all for the youth, so I have to let it go.
Well, the saying is that art is never finished—it’s just abandoned. How did you know it was ready?
I think that it was ready because people around me were saying that the world needs it. Signs that I’ve gotten—lucky numbers, specific times. Also because I’ve had it for three years, and like you were saying, art’s never truly finished, it’s just abandoned. I also feel like, how is art really art if no one ever sees it or hears it? I want to let it out into the world so people can judge it, say "Hey, I like it" or "I don’t like it," because that’s the only way we’re gonna move forward.
You work across a variety of media, do you feel that all of what you do is part of one larger project, or do you approach each medium as a distinct endeavor with distinct goals?
I definitely am capable of expressing different ideas through different things that we do. But really, it’s all for the betterment of humanity at the end of the day. We’re just trying to get to that one world vision, where everybody can be in a world where there aren’t 16,000 children dying of malnutrition every day. That’s really what I want to accomplish, and that’s why I’m doing this. All of this is really leading up to something that you’ll hear me saying a lot as I continue to promote the album: the one world vision is really what this is all about. We wanna get kids together to do cleanups and plant trees and different things, and that’s just scratching the surface of what we’re planning to do. We’re going to start to warm people up to this vision that we have.
You’re someone who has instant name recognition, but you chose to go with an unknown part of your given name for the record’s title.
SYRE really just came to me one day. I didn’t know what I was going to call the album, but one day it really really came. I don’t know what happened. It was like a switch—from one second to another, my whole life switched. I realized that Syre was the answer, what I had to move forward with. People love to just talk about me by name and say, "Oh, Jaden Smith this, Jaden Smith that." It’s time for a new awakening and a new consciousness. Anybody who thinks they know me, this album is something completely different from what they think. So I’m excited.
You get into some pretty heavy territory as soon as the album starts—it takes a certain amount of faith that fans are gonna stay with you from the jump like that.
I have nothing saying the fans are going to stay with me through those songs. If they’re fans, they’re going to stay with me, but skeptics and different people—I just really wanted them to hear that because people think that I’m so obsessed with—there are a lot of people who think I’m extremely obsessed with myself. That’s why I wanted to start the album with… not me.
It sounds like you’re pulling a few elements from contemporary rap—who out there inspires you right now, who are the noticeable influences?
I think the noticeable influences are Frank Ocean, James Blake, Kanye… there are a lot of people that you can feel in there. But for the most part I’m really trying to create my own sound that’s never been heard. When I hear somebody else’s song and there’s different pieces in that song that I really like, my whole goal is to try to make a song where I love the whole thing, and this is my passion, this whole song has been perfectly made for me, you know?
Was there one song on here that was particularly difficult to write?
Yeah, “Blue,” the first one. That’s the one that took three years. That’s why the whole album took three years. That was the one that really delayed the whole process—and made the album really worth it in my eyes.
What can you do now that you couldn’t three years ago?
Now I’m able to arrange an orchestra of the sounds I really wanna hear. Bring all the different people that really want to be on the project to be on it. I feel like I didn’t have the courage to do that before. But now I’m taking this really seriously and I’m able to reach out to idols and people I love to help me with the project and make it right.
[SYRE] is like a love letter to the world—it’s like a journal, and I’m just releasing it.
Who are the people you reached out to to carry this across the finish line?
It was really just like [Tyler, the Creator] and [ASAP] Rocky and Raury. Those are the people I wanted to reach out to. But then, you know, there’s so many people who are on the album that are just a part of my immediate collective, a part of MSFTS. My sister is all over the album. One of my favorite songs ever, “Lost Boy,” my girlfriend, Odessa, is on that song. Pretty much everybody from MSFTS is on the album. I’m using the entire collective of MSFTS as well as reaching out to people like Rocky, Tyler, and Raury to come in and be a collaborative part of it.
So the people involved here are part of your real life, not people you exchanged a couple emails with.
The whole album is very personal. This is like a love letter to the world—it’s like a journal, and I’m just releasing it, pretty much.
Speaking of Willow, what do you most admire about her music?
Everything, the whole message she puts out there. Being so young, and seeing how she does it… it’s the honesty that comes off, that’s what I really admire. That’s what I really care about.
And then, of course, you have your dad. I imagine a lot of your fans are familiar with him as a movie star, but maybe not as a rapper. Does his music influence or inform yours?
Definitely, definitely. Just his message, if you look at my dad’s music and then you look at music that’s being played now, it’s such a vast difference. I feel like people really lost that positive message and I really wanna bring that back. That positivity. It’s hard to have positivity in a world like this, but I’m trying to get it through in the music, somehow.
You’ve spoken a lot about some lofty goals for society—how do you see your role evolving over the next handful of years?
Take Elon Musk. Everybody knows that there should be electric cars. And Elon Musk was the guy who just did it. Everybody knows that there should be electric cars, but there should also be electric 18-wheelers and he’s about to unveil that tomorrow, at like 8 p.m. on tesla.com. [Editor's Note: Jaden was right, Musk really did that at exactly the time Jaden predicted.]
He’s taking super obvious things, making them easier, making them accessible, making them doable. That’s what I wanna do. People were like, "Plastic bottles are bad, someone should make an alternative." And then we came along with [JUST Water], and just did it. It’s super simple. It’s taking an issue in the world and creating a clean, renewable alternative. And that’s pretty much going to be my plan, adding to the one world vision and helping heal the world.